WASHINGTON – Congress approved $38 billion in spending cuts Thursday, sealing a deal to prevent a government shutdown before plunging into a more far-reaching debate over spending on federal programs and benefits for the years to come.
The Republican-controlled House planned a vote as soon as today on a proposal for fiscal 2012 by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., which would further cut spending and reduce federal involvement in Medicare and Medicaid. President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats differ sharply with Ryan over the role and scope of government.
The bill approved by the House and Senate on Thursday will fund the government through the end of the 2011 fiscal year on Sept. 30, cutting $38 billion from environmental, health, education, job-training and other domestic programs. Despite the steep reductions, the measure didn’t go far enough for the House’s most conservative members, exposing divisions among Republicans.
The vote showed clearly that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, remains unable or unwilling to keep the restive conservatives in line.
The overall vote was 260-167. Among Republicans, 179 voted for the package and 59 against. As a result, Democratic votes were needed to pass the bill, and 81 of them voted “yes.”
“There’s no cause for a celebration,” Boehner said. “This is just one step. And the next step will come tomorrow.”
Before Thursday’s vote, influential tea party activists sent one last warning to Republicans, including many of the 87 elected last fall, to vote against what they called an “embarrassing” compromise.
“While we have helped elect some true conservatives, Washington is still dominated by spending-addicted spineless wimps,” said Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer.
Nonetheless, about two-thirds of the newly elected Republicans supported the budget compromise negotiated by Boehner and the White House. Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho was among those who voted against it.
After passing the House, the measure was quickly approved by the Senate. On separate votes, senators defeated provisions that would have defunded last year’s health care law and denied federal funds to Planned Parenthood. Those votes were a concession by Democrats to Republicans that were part of the deal worked out last week.
The White House said “there are tough challenges ahead” that will require similar bipartisan compromise.
Another crucial financial issue also awaits: an increase in the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.
Republican leaders expect to extract deep deficit reductions in exchange for their votes to lift the debt limit. They appear to have convinced conservative lawmakers that the battles over the debt limit and the 2012 budget present even better opportunities to take on deficits.
Some Democrats decried the deal struck by the White House and Boehner.
Even though the compromise reduced the $61 billion in cuts originally sought by Republicans, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., voted no.
The measure digs into domestic programs and services across the nation. Gone is $600 million for community health centers and $2.9 billion for developing high-speed rail.